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Six Principles of Triathlon Training for Seniors

Six Principles of Triathlon Training for Seniors

As we age, triathlon training should change to reflect the changes in our bodies. Following an approach that recognizes six principles of triathlon training for seniors age 50 and over will ensure strong performance.

Introduction

Academic research has shown that decreased performance with age is not a given. Often, decreases have more to do with reduced energy, lower intensity in training, and less time spent training.

Unfortunately, the questions I receive show that most triathlon training programs do not consider the changes that occur with aging. The consequences of improper training can be career-ending.

On the flip-side, triathlon training following the six principles outlined here will help senior triathletes continue strong and with minimal injury.

How Should Triathlon Training Change for Seniors?

Consistent exercise can slow aging. However, maintaining consistency can be easier said than done. For some, lower energy with age makes it difficult to find the motivation for regular exercise. For others, jam-packed schedules make consistent exercise a challenge.

Also, the physiological changes that occur with age are the ingredients for more injuries. Never in our lives has the adage “working smarter, not harder” been more appropriate.

Physiological Changes with Age

King David understood what researchers today confirm – the human body is awesome. David wrote in Psalm 139:14 “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. “

Included in this wonderful design of the human body is the capability for self-repair of many types of tissue, including those of the muscles, tendons, and bones. Through repair, muscles become stronger during strength and endurance training. This same process promotes recovery from injuries.

However, in the typical aging process, our bodies become less efficient in making these repairs. Recovery from normal exercise and especially from injury takes longer. Tissues become stiffer. Taken together, these ultimately affect our athletic performance.

We need not give up though. Recent research cited in Masters Athletes: A Model for Healthy Aging has shown that our ‘old’ cells can be re-programmed through physical exercise to behave like younger cells.

According to a report published in Preventive Medicine, people who did the equivalent of 30-40 minutes of jogging per day, five days a week showed biological markers of a person seven years younger.

The Aging Musculoskeletal System

Beginning at around age 50, our skeletal muscles lose cells and become smaller and stiffer according to Dr.Vonda Wright in Masters Athletes: A Model for Healthy Aging. Accompanying this decrease in muscle mass is a reduction in strength and the power they are able to generate.

Reduced muscle mass and strength and increased stiffness are the basis for more frequent muscle strains and joint pain. Knee pain, sometimes incorrectly attributed to osteoarthritis, often highlights weak quadriceps. Shoulder pain in swimming is often a consequence of ignoring the smaller muscles responsible for joint stability. And, hip injuries are often rooted in stiffness and weakness of the core and gluteal muscles.

Tendons stiffen with age, in part, because of decreases in water content, hormonal changes, and thickening of elastin fibril tissue. On top of this, overuse which produces micro tears in the tissue leads to further stiffening of connective tissues .

Overuse injuries, those caused by continuing to exercise fatigued and/or tight muscles, are the most common among senior athletes. So here’s the dilemma: We need to keep moving to be strong and flexible, but moving more can lead to injury. Hint: strength training and stretching are two of the six pillars of triathlon training for seniors.

Nothing good happens in running, or in most sports, when you get tight. Tight muscles never outperform loose muscles simply because their range of motion is restricted, meaning they can’t move the full length for optimal power. 

Ryan Hall from Run the Mile You’re In 

Our Cardiovascular System and Aging

The lower mass and stiffening of tissue observed in older muscles and tendons is also seen in the cardiovascular system. According to Dr. Wright, “a 70-year old heart has 30% fewer cells than the heart of a 20 year-old.”

With the stiffening comes less efficient delivery of much-needed oxygen to cells. With less oxygen, performance, metabolism, and energy levels suffer.

The good news is that through endurance training, oxygen consumption increases. Dr. Wright reports that “Through endurance conditioning, one is capable of modifying maximum oxygen consumption, diastolic filling, relaxation, and arterial stiffness.”

Aging and Nutrition

How do the changes in our bodies affect our needs for fueling before, during, and after training?

According to Dr. Nancy Clark, the major changes in diet with age should be:

  • More protein – we need a greater amount of amino acids to achieve the same muscle-building effect that occurs in younger athletes. The masters athlete should aim for 0.6 to 0.7 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day (1.4-1.6 g/kg/day) spread throughout the day.
  • More anti-inflammatory foods – Fish oil (supplement and through fish like salmon and sardines) and certain plant and nut-based oils (e.g. olive, avocado, and walnut) are recognized for their anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Stay hydrated – With the less sensitive thirst response that comes with age, we are more likely to become dehydrated. Our bodies may need water before we feel thirsty. Common advice is to observe the color of your urine and drink enough for it to be consistently light-colored.
  • Watch the electrolytes – According to registered dietitian Sally Kuzemchak, those over age 50 are more likely to be “salt sensitive”. They should watch their salt intake. However, make sure you do not become electrolyte deficient during training, especially in high temperatures.

Principles of Training for Senior Triathletes

  • More stretching
  • Proper strength training
  • Leveraging high-intensity interval training
  • Getting enough rest
  • Staying hydrated
  • Nutrition – eating enough of the right food

More Stretching

Proper warm-up and stretching before vigorous exercise with additional stretching during cool down prevents the gradual shortening of tendons and cartilage. From my experience, I can say the same for muscles.

stretching before and after workout prevents injuries - one of the principles of triathlon training for seniors
Pre- and post-workout stretching is a fundamental of triathlon training for seniors.
Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

Stretching of the entire body prevents imbalances. For example, in my early days of running, I was religious about stretching my hamstrings after running but not so diligent about stretching my quadriceps. A chiropractor who diagnosed my knee pain pointed to the imbalance in flexibility in these two muscles. After a short time of consistent stretching of my quadriceps, the knee pain disappeared.

Related post: Optimal Stretching Pre and Post Workout

Proper Strength Training

Comments earlier in this post highlighted the connection between injury and muscle strength. Weak muscles are more prone to injury and provide less support for joints during activity.

It is important to strengthen the right muscles. While many athletes focus on strengthening cosmetic muscles (biceps, triceps, calves), these may not be the best ones on which to focus.

There are also plenty of personal stories in favor of strength training. One example is from ultrarunner Judy Cole (age 73). Judy ran every day during her early 30s. However, early on, she reported having problems with her knees.  Strengthening her quads and hamstrings eliminated the pain allowing her to continue running.  

Related post: Review of Mark Allen’s Strength Training for Triathletes

Related post: ‘At the Core’ – Strength Training to Help Seniors Perform Better and Avoid Injury

Leveraging High-Intensity Interval Training

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT for short, is an approach to training characterized by short periods, or intervals, of high-intensity exercise alternated with periods of recovery.

HIIT first gained notoriety in 1996 through a report published by the Japanese speed-skating coach and professor Izumi Tabata. Tabata’s paper documented the value of HIIT for elite athletes. Another study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology documented the benefits of HIIT over medium-intensity training for increasing VO2 max, an indicator of aerobic fitness. HIIT continues to be used for athletes of all levels, including cyclists and distance runners, for both endurance and strength training.

I have included HIIT here because it’s used for training in swimming, biking, and running. It also supports strength and fitness while simultaneously reducing the risk of overuse injury compared to long periods of lower intensity training. It also promotes variety and exercising the entire body.

For more information about HIIT training and its benefits, look at Dr. Joseph Tieri’s book Staying Young with Interval Training. After an introduction to HIIT and its benefits, most of the book shows various HIIT exercises.

Getting Enough Rest

Rest and recovery apply to all ages. As suggested in an earlier post, we ought to make consistent, high-quality sleep a priority.

However, one liability of age can be the ‘ability’ to persevere through pain. If you only take one lesson from this post, it is that we must train smarter, not harder with age.

Tired muscles are more prone to injury. Abused cartilage and muscle will get their revenge. It is best to rest or change your training plan to avoid aggravating sore areas.

Staying Hydrated

As we age, our sensation for thirst becomes weaker. At the same time, lower water content of body tissue is one contributor to injury. Stay hydrated.

Nutrition – Eating Enough of the Right Food

Consuming additional protein to ensure that we are producing muscle from strength training is the most significant takeaway. Eating anti-inflammatory foods and a rainbow of different colored fruits and vegetables is good advice for all ages.

What Is Your Experience?

Please share your questions and comments below.

We would love to hear what you have learned from your experiences? Your reading? From your coaches or training partners?

How have you adjusted your training with age?

Also, let me know if you have any issues with my comments. Really.

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” Hebrews 12:1

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How Does Choosing Running Shoes Change As We Age?

How Does Choosing Running Shoes Change As We Age?
Heading out of transition for the run at the Eagle River Triathlon near Anchorage, Alaska.

After beginning to train for my first triathlon, I purchased a pair of running shoes from a specialty running store. I was happy with the shoes and the experience. I was also pleased to have learned through this fitting that a wider shoe (2E) is a better fit for me than is a standard width.

However, after that first purchase, I started shopping for shoes online, partly for convenience. I was working full-time and did not relish shopping during the precious hours outside of work.

Online shopping allowed me to take advantage of sale prices which I was sure could not be matched by brick & mortar businesses that sold shoes. (I am now convinced that this was wrong.)

For these purchases, I used internet resources, such as the shoe finder apps and calculators on the websites of some manufacturers, to select specific brands and models of shoes.

Questioning My Process for Selecting Running Shoes

Recently, I came upon a Silver Sneakers post titled 5 Steps to Find the Right Workout Shoes. The article included some new – at least for me – suggestions for lacing and tying running shoes based on foot shape, selecting socks, and breaking in new shoes.

The author’s information was useful. However, comments from the post’s readers were even more enlightening. The author stressed the point that shoes should be comfortable. Meanwhile, the readers highlighted how often shoes did not fit properly or were uncomfortable.

I had to stop and think about how I would go about selecting my next pair of running shoes. What was the most effective way to find them? And, did my needs in a shoe change with age?

Does Age Matter? Yes & No!

I asked Kurt Decker, an avid runner and General Manager of TC Running Company, if he has observed an effect of age on shoe selection.

While, in his experience, the age of the runner is not a specific factor in choosing a running shoe, he has seen some tweaks that runners tend to make with age. The two major changes are:

  1. Increasing the amount of cushioning in the shoe and
  2. Increasing the width of the shoe; feet tend to become wider, or splay, with age and more miles of running.

“Aging is like so much in life – it’s different for each of us.”

Terry VanderWert

The Running Store Approach to Choosing Shoes

Even before reading the SilverSneakers article, I had started to question the online tools I had used for selecting shoes.

Every time I used a particular calculator, a different model of shoe would be recommended even though I had given the same answers to the questions. Besides, how could static tests of balance and bending account for dynamic movements during running?

I decided to visit the local TC Running store to experience their fitting process. When we first met, I told the salesperson, Travis, that I was doing research for a Senior Triathletes post. As a result, he was kind enough to explain the process and shoes in detail.

Step 1: Evaluating a Current Pair of Slightly Worn Running Shoes

I have read that the wear pattern on a current pair of running shoes paints a picture of the owner’s running form. Therefore, I brought along a pair of shoes that were the most worn yet still being used for running.

Travis asked if the shoes had been used exclusively or nearly always for running (which they had been) or for other non-running activities such as walking around my home or office. Running creates a unique set of movements and stresses and, therefore, wear pattern.

He pointed out that while conventional wisdom involves inspecting the heel for its wear pattern, the more important area to inspect is across the width of the shoe under the ball of the foot. The uniform wear on my shoes pointed out that I have a fairly neutral gait and foot strike. He was also able to see a small but minimal effect of asymmetry in my ankles.

A moderately worn pair of running shoes. We used these as part of the process for choosing new running shoes.

Step 2: Checking My Gait Without Shoes

Before choosing a single pair of shoes, Travis had me walk with socks but no shoes across a hard surface. He observed my movement as I walked about 10 yards away from and then back to him.

From this, he selected three pairs of shoes based on the level of support he judged that I needed.

Step 3: Observing My Running Gait

Next, I tried on shoes from two manufacturers. The shoes represented two different technologies for support of the foot during running.

I did not try the third pair; I was not planning to purchase shoes that day and did not want to keep Travis from ‘paying customers’.

The first pair I tried were light gray Brooks Adrenaline 19 with GuideRail technology. GuideRails, new with this year’s models, provide support through, as the name implies, rails (rods) molded into the shoe on each side of its heel.

The second shoes, an olive green pair from New Balance, provide support through stiff foam along the edges of the shoe from the heel to middle of the arch.

I jogged about 10 yards away from and then back toward Travis in each of the pairs while he observed me. His conclusion was that both pairs appeared to provide the required support.

Both shoes were extremely comfortable and nice looking. They surely made me want to buy a pair, though I resisted the temptation since I didn’t need them yet.

Brick & Mortar or Online?

I am much more likely to purchase from a brick & mortar store, like TC Running Company, that specializes in running shoes than from an online store.

As near as I could tell from the discussions, the prices from TC Running are comparable to those from online sources. For the price-conscious shopper, TC Running also offers ‘last year’s’ models at discounted prices, just like the online stores.

Even if the prices were slightly higher, I would be much more confident in the selection of shoe based on a dynamic evaluation of my running form than from a static-only (at best) assessment with the online stores.

If the Shoe Fits, You Will Wear It

Most runner’s shoes are selected after trying on several pairs of shoes to find a pair that provides the balance of support, fit, and comfort. The same process for determining the right shoes is used for all ages, even if the outcome in terms of the specific shoes that are selected changes with time.

Remember: Shoes that fit properly and feel comfortable when running are much more likely to get used.

Leave Your Comments and Questions Below

Where do you buy your running shoes?

How, if at all, have you found your shoes to change with age?

Please share your thoughts below.

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How Has Your Training Changed After Age 50?

How Has Your Training Changed After Age 50?
How does training for a triathlon swim change as I age?
Recently while skimming my email inbox, an article titled “5 Training Tips to Help You Run Strong As You Age” caught my attention. What really caused me to read further was the first part of the tagline: “Getting older doesn’t mean you have to stop running”. Judging from the comments that followed the article,  the author disappointed several readers when they realized that his definition of age differed from theirs – he is 40 years old.   It is common to generalize training plans, dismissing the age effect. Most questions I receive from visitors to Senior Triathletes are from those looking for advice on triathlon training for those of us 50 and over.  Missing from websites, blogs, and books about triathlon training is age-specific training information. Being over 50, we deal with issues that those younger seldom need to consider.  For example, a short time ago, RL posted the following on the Senior Triathletes Facebook page:

“Any of you doing tris/IMs after total hip replacement?  Got a THR 4 weeks ago – thought I would switch to aqua bike – been reading about people running post THR – still seems like a bit of a gamble with respect to increased risk of needing a revision compared to low impact activity.  Thanks for any comments.”

I doubt that the general triathlon sites answer questions about training and racing after joint replacements.  Unfortunately, I cannot answer this question with authority; I do not have the proper training. That’s why I am writing this post.

I Need Your Experience With Triathlon Training After Age 50

We, the age 50+ triathlon community, will appreciate your comments on the following:
  • Have you used or are you using a triathlon training plan specific to your age group or even for those age 50 and over?
    • Are you aware of such training programs and, if so, what have you heard about them?
  • What have you learned about training as you age?
    • What are the main changes you have made in your training?
  • How has your training for swimming, biking, and running changed as you have aged?
  • As someone age 50 or over, how do you advise someone ages 50, 60, 70, or even age 80 to train for a longer race?  For example, how does a person our age who does Olympic distance triathlons train for an Ironman?
  • Are you or someone you know able to answer training questions like that from RL (above)?
  • What can we do to achieve the goal of Senior Triathletes being a valuable resource for information, besides inspiration, for beginner and intermediate triathletes age 50 and over?

Please Share Your Comments About Triathlon Training After Age 50

Please add your comments and questions in the Comment section below or email us at seniortriathletes@gmail.com.. Also, please take a look at the questions and comments from your other Senior Triathletes.
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8 Changes in Exercise for Seniors Over 70

8 Changes in Exercise for Seniors Over 70
Photo courtesy of Unsplash

By Amanda Turner, Contributor

After 30, inactive people can lose 3% to 5% muscle mass per decade, according to WebMD. Exercise for seniors over 70 can help maintain good health and slow down this loss. If you’re wondering what exercises will be suitable for you as a senior over 70, here are eight workout routine-related adjustments you can consider.

1. Exercise regularly

To get the best benefits from exercise, it’s important that you do it regularly. Five days a week is a good starting point for moderate activities and three days for harder workouts.

2. Strength exercises (bodyweight vs. lifting weights)

Start with bodyweight exercises. Once, you’re able to handle your bodyweight, only then consider lifting weights, says trainer Meghan Kennihan. She uses exercises like squats, pushups, bicycle crunches, etc.

Work on all the major muscles of the body at least twice a week. Try to complete at least one set (up to 12 reps) of each strength exercise. Besides going to the gym and lifting weights, you can also build strength with yoga and doing the harder digging jobs in your yard.

3. Aerobic activity (moderate)

Choose one or more exercises that require moderate effort on your part. Some options include walking and riding a bike on flat surfaces. If you aren’t big on these activities, consider joining and ballroom or line dancing group or cutting your grass with a lawnmower. Go for a daily limit of at least 30 minutes and a weekly limit of 150 minutes. Divide your daily activity into separate sessions if that works best for you.

4. Aerobic exercises (hard)

If you can handle high-intensity workouts, substitute the 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity for 75 minutes of vigorous activity. There are a few ways you can go about this. Start to jog or run or ride a bike in a hilly area. If you like racket sports, considered playing singles tennis. The more energy-intensive types of dances are another option.

5. Mix moderate with hard activity

If your preferences for the intensity of exercise change often, consider a mix of the two approaches. Remember that one minute of vigorous exercise equals two minutes of moderate activity.

Exercise routines for seniors over 70 can include a mix of structured training and getting out with friends and family.
Exercise routines for seniors over 70 can include a mix of structured training and getting out with friends and family. Photo by Christian Bowen on Unsplash.

6. Mobility (bike vs. treadmill)

By age 75, about 33% of men and 50% of women do no physical activity, says CDC. And, staying sedentary for long periods hurts health. But, staying mobile has its own challenges for people with balance issues and joint pain. For its increased safety, using a stationary bicycle or treadmill can be a better choice compared to biking outside, especially when some research has been conducted into the best type of machine for your abilities and requirements, for example by reading some recumbent exercise bike reviews, the benefits of a recumbent exercise bicycle for the elderly that would like to remain fit and active, are much greater than those of an upright stationary exercise bike.

7. Flexibility (full-body vs. muscle group)

When stretching to stay flexible, try to incorporate full-body multidirectional movements instead of isolating a muscle group, says strength and conditioning specialist Rocky Snyder.

8. Good environment

Your workout environment, both the people and the surroundings, matter when it comes to staying healthy. Ensure that your overall health remains in top condition by maintaining the health of your home environment.

Amanda Turner is a freelance writer and a recent graduate who is taking some time to build her writing portfolio and explore her passions through writing. 

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